Monday, July 27, 2009

I might just live here forever!

My first travel destination is Santa Catalina which is becoming known as one of the best surf destinations in Central America. "Destination" might be a stretch of a descriptive word as Santa Catalina is pretty far from anything (it's about 7 hours from Panama City) and really is just a few restaurants, a handful of hostals and a bunch of places to rent surf boards. In other words, it's just about perfect. No destination resorts or fancy cars or night clubs, just a really quiet town with extremely nice people, and incredibly beautiful beaches with hardly anyone on them...and some great surfing to boot. There are a lot of people who come here and either end up coming back again and again, or sometimes just stay for a very long while. We'll see how long Santa Catalina keeps it hold over me! Here are a few pics from my first day (when a friend of a friend from Bolivia, Josefina, was traveling with me) and my first attempts at surfing. I managed to stand up a couple of times and get a sweet sunburn. Today (my second day) was a little more successful (on both fronts, especially the standing up on the board front).

PS. I'm at an internet cafe that is a 3km walk out of town or so. There also is no cell phone reception and everything is quiet by 10pm. This isn't a place for partiers, but it's a perfect place relax and learn to surf!

Final Days in Panama City

I finished up at the language school last Friday and am off to travel around Panama for 3 weeks. I'm on the clock at an internet cafe, so the short version of the final week included a fantastic 46th wedding anniversary celebration for my host parents where the whole family came to the house, some more memorable experiences at the clinic with prostitutes where I've been observing (more on that in a later post), and a close encounter with an owl (I took it as a sign and went and saw the Harry Potter movie the very next day). Here are a few pics:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Amelia!

Last year Scott and I put together a happy birthday surprise from Colorado for Amelia. Scott is in Georgia (like eastern Europe Georgia) this summer and I'm in Panama, but we decided not to let that stop us from sending Amelia some happy birthday love:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Challenge: what the heck is this man saying? (part 2)

Last week I asked for your help in figuring out what the heck the man who walks past my house every night is saying. I got some good ideas, including galletas from Viajera4eva and pollo from Abbie in Bolivia. I thought I heard helado...turns out we were all wrong. Abby T gets the shoutout for fishing caliente out of that sea of mushed together words. Abby, I owe you a beer next time you're in Seattle. Here's the answer:

Hello from Parque Metropolitano!

From what I've read, I gather that Panama City is the only city in the world that has a rainforest within the city limits. People call Parque Metropolitano (which I always seem to mispronounce) the "pulmón de la ciudad de Panama" or the lungs of Panama City. The park has a wide diversity of birds, insects, plants and other wildlife which can be seen by hiking one of the several trails that crisscross the park. Also, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has a rainforest canopy crane that you can pay to go up in, allowing you to see the wildlife that lives in the canopy. While walking around the park, I learned that the park's canopy is home to a species of frogs that lives its entire life in the canopy without ever touching the ground!

This video was taken at the Mirador, or viewpoint at the top of the park with views of Panama City and the Pacific.

Isla Taboga

This past Saturday I joined three of my language school mates, Bess, Courtney and Laura on a trip to Isla Taboga which is a favorite getaway spot for people in Panama City. The island is a short 20k boat ride from the city, but feels a lot further away as the town itself is very quiet. The island has kind of a rough history as it's inhabitants have been massacred a handful of times, though in the last few hundred years I think it say more use as a place for the Spanish and US to set up big gun turrets. After a nice lunch we hung out on the beach for the afternoon, watching a boisterous fishing competition that was going on just off the beach. When I last asked, the winning fish was somewhere in the neighborhood of 78 pounds or so! After hanging out at the beach for a bit, I went for a run up a nearby hill where I was rewarded with some incredible views of the island and other islands nearby. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway, minus the volleyball and being stranded parts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gerber for the Gringo...and canals and beaches too!

In the first days that I arrived in Panama, I mentioned to my family that I often ate oatmeal and apple sauce in the morning for breakfast. After a confusing conversation where I tried to explain what the heck apple sauce is, I finally realized that they say pureed apples instead of apple sauce (puré de manzana)...which they don't normally eat in Panama.
As part of my program my host parents, Toni who is a very friendly retired accountant and his wife, Emilsa who drives a school bus, serve me breakfast and dinner every day. I arrived at the table this morning to find a bowl containing an unknown substance. With a bit of a grin my host father told me to give it a try without telling me what it was. I tried a spoonful and excitedly said "puré de manzana!" Only then did he explain to me that it was Gerber brand baby food, which is the only way that Panamanians eat pureed apples. I think Toni thought it was pretty funny that he was serving me baby food. So don't worry Mom, I'm eating well, brand name baby food in fact! This isn't quite as bad as one of my classmates who mistakenly ate the dog food last week instead of the meal prepared by her host parents (in her defense, who gives cooks and shreds chicken for their dog, I mean seriously?).

I'm trying to keep things short here, but I'll share a slideshow from my visit to the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal last Thursday and of my first swim in the Pacific at the Santa Clara beach last Saturday. I'll probably write more about the Panama Canal later, but in short the US gave control of the canal back to Panama in 1999, which means that the canal zone is a lot more open to the public now. It was pretty amazing seeing how little space is left between the large boats and the walls of the lock when the big boats pass through (Panama is currently constructing larger locks to stay competitive with the new generation of ever larger ships). On Saturday Courtney and I took a bus to Santa Clara (here's a video of what some of the houses/music that we encountered along the way). The bus driver rocked some nice salsa tunes during the 2 hour trip to the beach. We ended up having a bit of a cloudy day, which actually was pretty nice as both Courtney and I are not the tannest people in Panama.

Challenge: what the heck is this man saying?

I need your help! Every night a man walks past my house yelling out the things that he's selling. I can make out the first few words which sound a bit like "helado, yogur..." maybe something about chocolate. Can you make out the rest? Leave a comment or send me an email if you understand what he's saying. If we can't figure out what he's saying, I'll stop him one night and ask him to say it more slowly, but it's more fun to put this out to you for some help!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A new president for Panama!

On July 1st all of Panama stopped for the inauguration of the country's new president, Ricardo Martinelli. Since I missed Obama's inauguration, I was pretty psyched to be able to catch a bit of the festivities in Panama City, or at least to see how Panamanian celebrate the arrival of a new president. After the official ceremonies, the Martinelli government threw two parties, a private one for his 5,000 closest friends and public party for the gente de Panamá. After finishing up my language classes, I headed out with two women from my language school to check out the public party. We knew where the event was happening and that there was some sort of stadium involved, but that's about all we knew.

When we arrived at the Estadio Roberto Durán, named after the famous Panamanian boxer, we began walking around the well guarded stadium trying to figure out what the heck was going on. There were a lot of vendors but hardly any people (see pictures below). After asking around, we gathered that a concert was happening inside the stadium and that we should wait in line. It was pretty fun arriving with no idea what was happening or where we needed to go and just figuring it out as we went. After a bit more confusion involving the police running out of wrist bands which stopped them from letting any more people in, we finally entered stadium where we were definitely were the only gringos in a sea of 7,000 Panamanians, which felt a little weird but everyone was friendly. My Panamanian host mother explained to me that this event was little like taking a bath in the people of Panama because there were people from every social class, but especially from the lower social classes. I think this is a Panamanian saying and I'm not 100% sure how it makes sense, but I liked the image nonetheless. We found a spot in the back of the stadium and spent the next 5.5 hours from 2pm until 7:30pm waiting for the president to arrive, while we watched 12 well-known Panamanian groups perform. Macano was the only group that I had heard of before, but I liked the first two groups the best, Alfredo Escudero and Sandra Sandoval (playing cumbia) were my favorites. Both of these groups played traditional Panamanian music which is all about the accordian, which automatically makes it cool in my book.

Martinelli and his large group of ministers and governors finally arrived to say a few words. I was hoping for a speech but the DJ ended up talking about 10 times as much as the president who only spoke for a minute before others took away the microphone to talk about how great he was and about the generacion de cambio (the generation of change). I guess this was basically the equivalent of one of the many balls that Obama attended briefly after his inauguration to wave, say a few words and take a turn on the dance floor with Michelle. All around it was a very memorable day. It was fun seeing a lot of young Panamanians and seeing how they dressed (lots of tight clothing!).

Here are a few photos:

And a video from the show: